Review: Pixels

What? A movie review? New territory ahead, captain! Yeah, I haven’t done one of these before. Should be fun, right?

So the wonderful random-comment-picker over at NAG Online saw fit to randomly pick me to go watch an early screening of Pixels, this season’s Adam Sandler romp of WTF. So I roped a guest in (double tickets, don’t you know) and went over to check it out at Ster-Kinerkor’s Cine Prestige at Sandton City just this last evening.


So I’m just gonna start here to get it over with and for full disclosure and such: Cine Prestige at Sandton City is a fine treat. You’re lead into a special waiting area, with its own popcorn stand and all, from which you can observe the “normal” movie rabble from behind the safety of glass panels (“windows”). Ushers let you know when your cinema is ready, and you and your fellow privileged are directed down a carpets-on-every-surface corridor. In the cinema you will find FRICKIN’ LAZY BOYS WITH THE RECLINING AND THE SWITCHES TO GO UP AND DOWN AND THE DRINKS PAD ACTIVELY KEEPS YOUR DRINK COOL AND AWW GEEZ THESE ARE SO COMFY AND ALL THE SPACE LOOK AT THIS I’M FULLY STRETCHED OUT AND PEOPLE CAN COMFORTABLY WALK IN FRONT AND BEHIND AND THIS FRIENDLY MAN ENQUIRES AS TO WHETHER I AM HAPPY AND BLIMEY YES I AM. I think that will suffice.

The popcorn and drink was free, too.

The popcorn and drink was free, too.

What about the movie, then? Well, it rests upon a wafer-thin plot of an ex-arcade-game-prodigy-turned-home-tech-installer being enlisted by childhood-friend-turned-US-president-friend to save the world from some attacking extra-terrestrials. The ET’s are attacking because they (mis)interpreted a broadcast of an arcade-game championship (in which said prodigy, president, and hitherto unmentioned nemesis, were competitors) as some sort of declaration of inter-planetary war. ET thus “responds” by building and sending classic arcade videogame characters/elements (as they saw them in the broadcast) to attack Earth. That’s how you end up with Pac-Man taking bites out of Mini’s (among other things) in New York and a great, big, pixellated Donkey Kong.

Just roll with it, okay?

Just roll with it, okay?

It could’ve been worse, right? Probably. Wobbly plot and unlikely characters aside, Pixels throws enough arcade game references around to elicit chuckles out of any sufficiently-educated gamer. The IRL manifestations of classic games charmed my criticisms pretty smoothly – it was fun to watch a centipede stampede through London and a space invader descend upon New York. A good job was done on the effects, too: watching a giant, bright yellow Pac-Man and co. chomp, blast, and smash through the people, buildings, vehicles and doodads of NYC in explosions of pixelly blocks that come a-raining down on anything below was rather glorious. Of course it was all in 3D, too, as is the norm now. The 3D was, eh, fine I guess. I’m not a fan of 3D overall – I admire the effect but take issue at the forced focus that removes one’s ability to look at the little things in a scene’s background or to track fast moving objects as easily, and how the glasses darken a scene (I still don’t get how that doesn’t seem to have been compensated for).

Good presentation, a novel, if silly, plot, and buckets of fan-service are really the only high points of Pixels, though. I saw opportunities for Pixels to be more than only a colourful romp for its cookie-cutter protagonists. But, sadly, too many old movie-making tropes are too diligently adhered to for Pixels to be anything more than not totally bad. Sandler and co. are not challenged in their roles (Peter Dinklage played a fun one), while the story and characters develop in the most predictable fashion. Bad stereotypes of Big Bang Theory proportions are readily clung to for the purpose of cheap gags and guaranteed chuckles. There’s no disruption of norms here, or interesting commentary, or anything terribly smart (which is okay, it just… It could’ve, y’know…). If I were to stick on one specific scene to typify this film, it’s how a female character (a character from a game, I should add) is parcelled out as a trophy to be the wife of a crying man-child because he didn’t get what he wanted or function in society – were Pixels a game, today’s gaming press would pan the scene as backward and misogynistic and I’d guarantee a Twitter shit-storm would come of it, and it would be entirely justified (oh, opinions…). It’s a shame that happens after a great boss fight that genuinely had my heart pumping.

Martha Stewart tho'...

Martha Stewart tho’…

And that’s that. In summary: Pixels is fun, dumb, and pretty (ie. colourful, fast, exciting visuals) – it’ll entertain the kids, without risk of undue thought. Were the tickets not free, I doubt I’d have watched it.
Five out of ten or something. Sandler fans will like it.